Islands Of Intrigue – First Chapter

Chapter 1

“So this is the cradle of Western civilization, huh?” Joe Hardy asked.

Frank Hardy stopped next to his brother on the hot, crowded sidewalk in Athens, Greece. He could see the classical marble columns of the Acropolis, way up on a hill overlooking Athens. But here in the middle of the city, most of the buildings were modern, boxlike structures of stuccoed cement. Chattering tourists filled the cafe’s lining Syntagma Square, and horns blared from the cars, trucks, and motorcycles that swarmed past.

“Not exactly the kind of place where you’d imagine ancient Greek philosophers hanging out and debating the meaning of life,” Frank said, cracking a smile. “But I guess the Gray Man didn’t send us here so we could catch up on history.”

“You got that right.” Joe looked left and right around the crowded square, tapping his sneaker on the sidewalk. “Where’s the kiosk where we’re supposed to make contact?”

“Let’s see. Southeast corner of Syntagma Square,” Frank said as he recalled the Gray Man’s instructions, then checked his pocket map. “It should be right around here…somewhere.”

When the Gray Man had called to ask if they’d help him — unofficially, of course — with a mission, he’d warned them that it would be dangerous. He hadn’t given them many details — just that they’d be helping to recover some missiles stolen from a U.S. military base near Athens. All of the background information would be handed to them by an agent posing as a vendor at a newsstand.

“Bingo.” Joe pointed to a small, octagonal structure about fifty feet in front of them. Behind the racks of newspapers and magazines stood an older man with wiry gray hair and a stubble of unshaved beard.

“Here goes,” Frank said under his breath. Shoving his hands in his jeans pockets, he sauntered over to the stand and checked out the newspapers. “Excuse me,” he said, repeating the code words precisely. “I’m looking for a map of the Dodecanese islands.”

The man’s alert gaze flicked over Frank’s face before he spoke. “Is there a particular island you’d like to travel to?” the vendor asked.

So far, so good. That was exactly the response the Gray Man had told Frank to expect. “Rhodes,” Frank told the man. Then he lowered his voice and added, “I’ve heard the figs are excellent there.”

The vendor gave a crisp nod. Reaching under the counter, he pulled out a flat package wrapped in brown paper. On top of the package was a folded-up map. Frank felt a rush of adrenaline as he tucked the package under his arm and crossed back to Joe. “Come on. Let’s find someplace where we can look this over.”

As the two crossed a street, Frank spotted a large public garden with paths cutting neatly among well-trimmed lawns and flowers.

“There’s a bench under that tree over there,” Joe said, pointing to a deserted spot.

As soon as they sat down, Frank unwrapped the package. Inside was a manila folder filled with photographs, articles, and classified background material on the case. Frank and Joe quickly scanned the cover sheet.

“Whoa!” Joe said. He leaned back on the bench and let out a low whistle. “No wonder the Gray Man warned us that this job would be tough. I mean, tracking down one of our own undercover operatives and a half-dozen Phoenix missiles he’s suspected of stealing?”

Frank could hardly believe it himself. According to the cover sheet, it was a case of a good agent gone bad. Terry Brodsky had been the top U.S. undercover man in the Balkans for the past five years. Missions took him all over the area, but his home base was the one near Athens where the Phoenix missiles had been stored. Brodsky had dropped out of sight at the same time that the missiles were stolen. Since Brodsky knew all the network’s undercover operatives, the Gray Man had brought in Frank and Joe to help track Brodsky because he wouldn’t know them.

Frank flipped to the second sheet, which gave background information on Brodsky. “Check out his record. He’s the guy who infiltrated that terrorist group in the Mideast a few years back and recovered six American hostages,” he told Joe. “A weapons expert…top security clearance…”

“Hmm,” Joe said, reading over Frank’s shoulder. “His latest mission was to set up a deal to sell U.S. arms to Petronia.”

Frank vaguely remembered reading about negotiations between the U.S. and Petronia, a tiny Balkan nation. Petronia was to acquire U.S. technology after its military government was replaced by a democracy. “The sale fell through because of an international arms reduction treaty.”

“Yup,” Joe said. “Anyway, it looks like the one complaint the top brass had about Brodsky was that he didn’t play by the rules.”

While Joe spoke, Frank scanned another memo in the file on his lap. “Which apparently didn’t go over very well with the guy who wrote this,” he said, showing the memo to Joe. “General Warren Blackman, who’s the new director of undercover forces in the Balkans, is the kind of guy who does everything strictly by the book. He wrote this to his commanding officer back in the States, recommending that Brodsky be removed because of his ‘unorthodox methods.'”

“Brodsky went a lot further than bending the rules this time,” Joe said. “Six Phoenix missiles and Brodsky all disappear at the same time. What are we supposed to think, that he suddenly took a vacation?”

“Yeah, right. And he happened to forget to tell everyone about it,” Frank scoffed. “If you ask me, stealing the missiles was Brodsky’s way of leaving the undercover forces before getting kicked out. The cover sheet mentions a photo that implicates Brodsky, too, doesn’t it?”

Joe flipped through to some photographs at the back of the file. “It must be one of these,” he said, handing the stack to Frank.

The top photo was a shot of Terry Brodsky from the Pentagon’s personnel files. Frank studied it closely. The man staring out at him had piercing blue eyes, sandy hair, and a rugged, angular face. His powerful build was evident, even beneath his button-down shirt. “Not the kind of guy you’d want to run into in a deserted alley,” Frank said.

“No kidding.” Joe plucked two more photos from the pile in Frank’s hands, then turned one over. “It says here on the back that this picture was sent by an anonymous source. It’s the kind that has the date and time automatically printed on it. Looks like it was taken the night the missiles were stolen. One’s the original. The other’s a computer enhancement.”

Frank peered at the photo. “It was sent anonymously, so it’s not completely reliable, but it is pretty incriminating.”

The original photo was dark and blurred. All Frank could make out was the boxy black silhouette of a truck and the shadowy figure of a man next to it. The computer enhancement showed what looked like missiles inside the truck. The details of the man’s face were much clearer, too. There was no mistaking Brodsky’s angular features.

“The cover info said something about a military truck being found abandoned outside of Athens,” Frank said. “So maybe the missiles are somewhere around here.”

Joe nodded, scanning the cover sheet. “It’s pretty obvious that Petronia was disappointed when the arms sale didn’t go through. Since Brodsky was in on the negotiations…”

“Maybe he’s selling the stolen missiles to Petronia on his own,” Frank finished. “With the money he’d get, Brodsky could start a new life for himself anywhere he wants — unless we stop him.”

“The question is, how?” Joe asked. “This background sheet says that agents have been monitoring all trucks and ships crossing into Petronia. So far, nothing’s turned up except that one abandoned truck. The Gray Man thinks Brodsky may be hiding the missiles somewhere near Athens until the heat dies down.”

“Or, if the deal with Petronia isn’t firm yet, Brodsky might have to stay put here until every thing’s worked out,” Frank put in.

There were two photographs remaining in the pile — one was of a slender man with balding dark hair, shaking Terry Brodsky’s hand. “This was taken while the arms negotiations were still on,” Frank said, after checking the description on the back of the photo. “This guy, Dvorniak, is the Petronian ambassador to Greece. He’s definitely someone to keep an eye on. If an illegal deal is going down, he could be Brodsky’s contact.”

The other photograph showed a man with short dark hair and an impeccably trimmed beard. “Here’s suspect number two, Josef Kozani,” Frank went on. “Officially, he’s a Petronian businessman. He’s got an international reputation as a consultant.”

“He’s the guy who convinced U.S. businesses to invest in Petronia after they became a democracy in the late 1980s, right?” Joe said. He raised an eyebrow at Frank. “Let me guess. He has a sideline dealing in illegal weapons?”

Frank checked the background sheet attached to Kozani’s photograph. “That’s what the Pentagon thinks. Apparently, he’s been suspected of being involved in other illegal arms deals, though nothing has ever been proven,” he said. “We should probably check the main hotels to see if he’s in Athens.”

“Let’s get something to eat first, okay?” Joe suggested.

“Sounds good,” Frank agreed. “I’m starved.” He flipped the file shut and got to his feet. “We can probably get some souvlaki at one of the cafés on Syntagma Square.”

“Souvlaki?” Joe echoed as they left the gardens and headed back to the crowded square. “What’s that?”

He broke off and elbowed Frank in the ribs. “I don’t believe it,” he said, dropping his voice to a low whisper. “Check out who’s right in front of us.”

He was staring at a man in a gray business suit. “Josef Kozani!” Frank whispered. “Keep cool. We don’t want him to get suspicious.”

The Hardys hung back, letting Kozani take a comfortable lead. Then they followed him right onto a street called Vasilissis Sofias. Frank noticed the different national flags on the ornate buildings they passed.

“Looks like there are a lot of embassies here.” Frank took his map of Athens from his back pocket.

“Even Petronia’s?” Joe asked doubtfully.

“Why not? Petronia does border Greece to the north,” Frank said as he studied the map. “The map says it’s here.” He pointed to a spot on the map, then shot Joe a meaningful glance. “The embassy’s only a few blocks away.”

Up ahead, Josef Kozani was turning left onto a side street. The narrow street was lined with stores and restaurants. About halfway down, Kozani crossed the street and entered a café. A sign over the door read Taverna Salamandra, above the Greek symbols.

“Definitely not the embassy,” Joe said, staring at the taverna. “Maybe he’s got some sort of rendezvous.”

“Or maybe he’s just having lunch,” Frank reminded his brother. “It could be a total coincidence that he’s in this area.”

“Well…” Joe squared his shoulders and started across the street. “Let’s find out.”

Frank had already started to follow his brother, when he heard the whining buzz of a moped somewhere off to their left. He turned his head — then froze.

A red moped was barreling down the narrow street at top speed, and it was heading straight for him and Joe.

“Stop!” he cried, but the driver didn’t even slow down or swerve. In a second the moped was going to be on top of them!

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